“You can always blame the culture for his/her behavior”

Irati and Matthias at Sopelana Beach in the Basque Country, close to Bilabo, Spain

Do you know where Sopelana Beach is?

Irati Elorrieta and Matthias Herrmann are a Basque-German artist couple living in Berlin. She is a writer and film-maker, he a musician. Find out how their cultural backgrounds influence their relationship.

How did you meet?

There is a house project in Kastanienallee, a well-known street in the neighborhood called Prenzlauer Berg. About 20 adults and ten children live together in a big building. There are separated apartments, but many things are shared. Both Matthias and I lived there for many years. Every Monday we used to cook together. This is how we met. Oh, and we met in “German”.

What is something “typically cultural” about your partner?

IRATI: Typically German: He always has to justify everything very rationally. I would also classify his deadpan humor as something “typically German”.
MATTHIAS: Typically Basque: She gets really explosive really fast. For her there seems to be nothing between correct and incorrect.

In what language do you communicate and why?

MATTHIAS: We communicate in German because we live in Berlin and because she speaks German better than I do Basque or Spanish.

What language do you speak with your child?

IRATI: Matthias speaks German with our son and I speak Basque with him, so our child learns both parents’ native languages.

Irati, can you explain why it is important to you to say “I’m Basque” and not “Spanish”?

IRATI: This is a very complex issue on the one hand, but on the other hand very easy to explain. According to my documents I’m Spanish. But culturally I was raised as a Basque. Culture is, in my point of view, also strongly determined by the language. And I grew up speaking Basque aswell. I feel Basque and the Basque country is the place I come from, and this part of the world is governed by Spain.

Is there a specific subject that challenges your relationship (e.g. religion, discrimination, job opportunities)?

MATTHIAS: We both have linguistic disadvantages in each others native countries. This of course means that one of us will always have more difficulties in finding a job, depending on where we are.
IRATI: But Matthias can take his work along with him even if we spend a couple of weeks in Spain. This gives us certain flexibility.

Is there one culture that you live out more at home?

IRATI: Concerning our eating habits, one can say we cook “free-style”. This means, there is no nationality that dominates the kitchen. We use everything that is available to cook a meal. It can have an Asian touch or an Italian, Spanish or even Arabic one… Of course we like buying certain products when we are in the Basque country and bring them back to Berlin. Things like: pickled tuna, anchovies, cheese, chorizo… And we also enjoy German specialties like “Maultaschen” (a kind of German ravioli), all kinds of cabbage, asparagus… I wouldn’t say that one culture is more lived out than the other. It’s just Berlin… We live in an urban, international atmosphere.

How do your parents accept your relationship?

MATTHIAS: My parents think that Irati is more than “o.k.”
IRATI: My dad likes Matthias that much, he asks me: “Isn’t Matthias too good for you?” Of course this is a joke and it’s just my dad’s grim sense of humor. No, seriously, the only “disadvantage” from my parents’ point of view is that we met and live in Berlin. They would like to have their daughter geographically closer to them.

What are the advantages of a binational relationship?

There are three aspects we like: 1) Children of binational couples are more beautiful than others! 2) When things get difficult in the relationship, you can just put the blame on the culture!... 3) Of course a binational relationship broadens your own horizon.

What can society learn from binational couples concerning integration?

Society could also broaden its horizon to get along with the “others” and love them! Less xenophobia would be nice. Politics could have a different approach on asylum policy. It would also be great if landlords and employers could ignore applicants’ origins and stop choosing people depending on where they come from. It would be nice if people don’t think you’re stupid, just because you have an accent or because you don’t know that “Weichsel Strom” is German for “Vístula river”. I would love, that children at the day-care-center stop saying stupid things when a Korean friend of mine picks up my child. Cultural mix and diversity – this is what a binational couple stands for. A society without diversity will never be a healthy one.

Thank you very much for this interview!